Meet the 2024 Festival Poster Artist: Zeke Peña

Texas Book Festival is proud to announce author/illustrator Zeke Peña as the 2024 Festival poster artist. Every year, Texas Book Festival selects an artist with a strong Texas affiliation whose work reflects the spirit of the Festival, an annual celebration of imagination, creativity, community, and diverse artistic expression. Peña crafted a custom piece of artwork for the official 2024 Festival poster image. The poster features bilingual text in English and Spanish, in alignment with the Festival’s growth in its Spanish language programming. Please join us as we celebrate Peña’s addition to the gallery of admired Festival poster artists.

To commemorate the announcement, TBF Chief Operations Officer Dalia Azim interviewed Peña about his work.

DA: You are no stranger to Texas Book Festival and, in fact, have been a part of our story for a long time. Can you tell us about your experiences as a featured author at our annual Festival and as part of our Reading Rock Stars program?

ZP: I went to school at UT Austin. I took the bus to campus from the east side, so when I first attended the book festival as a featured author it was really special. Just walking around on Congress with a bunch of book stuff going on was a good vibe and I was grateful our book My Papi Has a Motorcycle was getting some shine too. My Reading Rock Stars experience was even more special. In El Paso, we have lots of book and literacy deserts all in neighborhoods of the actual desert. So to gather some community around books and stories was a great experience. It is a program that literally puts books in young people’s hands, which can have a direct impact on the families in our communities. I was grateful to be a part of Reading Rock Stars’s first trip to El Paso.

DA: Texas Book Festival has a long tradition of inviting the most celebrated and beloved artists from Texas to partner with us on creating our annual Festival poster. You are the first artist from El Paso to carry this mantle. What does it mean to you to represent TBF and El Paso this year?

ZP: Listen, any shine I can put on my community in El Paso I’m gonna do it. Our region is always the outlier in Texas, people forget about us out there. But we are a thriving community of creative and resilient people. We are doing our own thing out there and it’s why the Paso Del Norte region produces some of the best cultural work. I’m really grateful that TBF would give me the platform. Hopefully, it means that more writers, illustrators, artists, and performers from El Paso will get an opportunity to showcase their work.

DA: Does being from Texas inform your work and, if so, in what ways?

ZP: I was born in southern New Mexico, where my mother’s family has been living since before it became United States territory and my dad is from San Antonio, Texas. So yes, growing up in Texas nearly my whole life has definitely had an impact on my work. But I’d say being from El Paso, from the border, from the desert informs my work more than anything. It’s tough when so much of Texas history is mired in myth, biased, and untrue narratives. People conveniently like to forget that Texas was a Mexican territory and before that, it was land under Indigenous stewardship. People in Texas want the tasty tacos but want to throw out the part of history about why there are tacos in the first place – Mexican people and culture. It’s wrong when book bannings and laws are passed in Texas to erase that history, which is the history of the region and community I grew up in. The history of Texas is complex and layered, so when the story is told honestly and wholly, my answer is yes. That’s the Texas that has informed my work – the complicated one based on inclusive and factual history.

DA: Can you tell us a little about your process in making this custom work of art for the 2024 Texas Book Festival poster?

ZP: My process always starts with some simple sketching and word association – pencil on paper. From those initial ideas I start developing a rough sketch where I’m looking more closely at composition and scale. So with this one I started with the simple concept of the nopal growing out of the book, and the family reading to their little one. I try to make my images simple, clear, and accessible to a wide range of audience. Using a graphic or comic style helps make sure that the youngest of people can take something from the images I make. After I have a good sketch, I do what’s called value blocking where I think about light and dark. Then I do the final coloring and rendering. I use a process that is informed by traditional drawing and painting, comics, animation, and silk screen printing. 

DA: You’ve talked about “making comics and illustrations as an accessible way to reclaim stories and remix history.” Can you share more about that, and how drawing enables you to do this?

ZP: I recently became a father so this image has a lot to do with how we hand down stories from one generation to the next. So the concept for this image is centered around the history of the places that we come from. I especially wanted to highlight communities that live on the fringe of Texas like my community in El Paso. I’m also really interested in confronting the mythical history of cowboys, Texas, and the wild west that are told in the history books we study in Texas public schools. These myths often erase and displace the history of Indigenous, Black, Brown and other marginalized people who have contributed to Texas history. I’m also calling out the book banning that is going on right now. There is a long history of book burning and banning in this state and country. However, in nature the burnt forest grows stronger. Through symbols and icons I’m telling a visual story to remix and reclaim that narrative. 

DA: You have also talked about mining family history for inspiration for your books. Which of your projects have been directly inspired by stories that come from your family?

ZP: I think I would use a different word, other than mining my family history. I try to avoid being extractive in my process and think of it more as reconnecting or reclaiming ties to my familial history that have been severed by the fabrication of the international border. I’d say that really everything I write and illustrate personally has to do with where I’m from. A specific project I can call to is an on-going short comic project titled River Stories that looks at the political and cultural history of the River that runs between El Paso and Juarez, known as Pehla, Rio Grande, Rio Bravo and many other names. This sacred river has shaped my family’s and community’s history so I’m trying to better understand that relationship. 

DA: Are your books a way of passing on these stories to future generations? 

ZP: I feel like that is the hope. But I should also say that some narratives I make aren’t always so heavy. There is a time to think critically and reflect, but laughing and dreaming are also really important. Imagination can be liberatory and humor is how we get by. So I’m also working on science fiction and comedy narratives. 

DA: Who are some of your favorite artists and how have they influenced your unique style?

ZP: My visual style and sensibility has been influenced by people like Ester Hernandez, Kara Walker, Kerry James Marshall, Enrique Chagoya, Luis Jimenez, Yolanda Lopez, Katsuhiro Otomo, José Guadalupe Posada, Leopoldo Méndez, Todd McFarlane, Yoshiro Tatsumi, Hayao Miyazaki, Ralph MacQuerrie, Matt Groening, Peter Chung, there are tons more but these came to mind.

DA: Who are your favorite writers and what have you been reading lately?

ZP: I’ve been reading Octavia Butler more thoroughly, anything that Jillian Tamaki makes, Ronald Wimberly’s comics, Catalyst by James Luceno, Rebel Rising by Beth Revis, rereading Dune, rereading The Hobbit, Zealot by Reza Aslan, lots of comics, tons of picture books, any and ALL banned books. 

DA: Anything else you would like to share?

ZP: I hope for freedom and justice for the Palestinian people, people in Sudan, people in the Congo and all oppressed people. If you want to check out more of my work you can find me online at or on IG @zpvisual

Zeke Peña’s Bio from Zeke Peña is a Xicano storyteller and cartoonist from El Paso, TX. His work is a mash-up of political cartoon, border rasquache and Hip Hop culture that addresses identity, politics, ecology and social justice. He recently illustrated the NY Times Bestselling book Miles Morales Suspended: A Spider-Man Novel (author Jason Reynolds / Atheneum, 2023). He has received several awards for his book illustrations in My Papi Has a Motorcycle (Quintero / Kokila, 2019) and Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide (Quintero / Getty Publications, 2017). He received a degree in Art History from the University of Texas at Austin in 2005 and is self-taught in the studio. His work is in several collections of American and Latine art including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Museum of Mexican Art, and The Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum. Zeke is currently writing and illustrating his first picture book about two kids going on an adventure in the desert behind their house. @zpvisual

Festival merchandise, including posters and t-shirts featuring the 2024 Festival poster image will be available for purchase at the Texas Book Festival on November 16–17, 2024 in Downtown Austin and online.